Recapturing the Joy of Christmas

Why Jesus is My Hero #34 of 52

We had our Christmas carol service at Euston Church tonight, and we were encouraged by these words from Luke’s gospel:

“An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.'” (Luke 2:9-11)

I find it so easy at Christmas time to become so hardened to the familiar verses that we hear year after year, but the story of the nativity remains an astonishing account of the most remarkable grace of God – that he should extend the hand of friendship to a world that has treated him so abominably, and even condescend to come to Earth and be born as a baby boy in order to rescue us. No wonder the angel proclaimed that his coming was news of “great joy” – for if we really saw the state of the world clearly, and understood our own predicament rightly, then what could be more joyful than discovering that God has made it possible for there to be peace between him and us?

The faithful people of God had been waiting for centuries for the promised king in the line of David. We all know the anticipation of counting down the days until Christmas – how much more exciting must that first Christmas have been, seeing the arrival of the one who had been expected for so long? May God give us grace to wonder anew at the message of Christmas this year.

How To Spend Every Day


I’ve been revisiting recently the excellent essay by Jonathan Edwards, “The Sin and Folly of Depending on Future Time“. In his characteristic style, Edwards diagnoses and dissects the problem of living in the future instead of being content to get on with making the most of the present moment that God has given us. This may sound over-the-top, but I’m gradually coming to realise that this is probably the biggest battle I struggle with in my life, the prior cause from which many of my other battles originate.

The Symptoms of Depending on Future Time

Let me illustrate with a couple of examples. God willing, I’m getting married in 172 days’ time, and I find it all too easy to just wish away the days and resent the fact that it’s so far away in the future. As at many other times in my life, I’ve fallen for that lie, that what I need is a change of circumstances – if only this were the case or if that were different, then I’d be able to get my life sorted out. Maybe it’s a change of jobs, maybe it’s living in a new place, maybe it’s graduating from university. Whatever it is, you look at your present situation and see all of the difficulties and downsides, a kind of “informed pessimism”, whereas you look at the grass on the other side and all you can see is potential and exciting opportunity – the optimism of ignorance. Instead of getting on with growing and serving in the situation God has currently put me in, I look to the future and imagine that I could serve him much more contentedly once I arrive at the next place. If prior experience is anything to go by, that’s absolute nonsense! Why should the next situation be any different from the current one, or the one before that? What possible grounds do I have for imagining that I’ll be any more content, until I learn to cease living in the future?

The other example I could give is in the daily battle to work productively, on whatever project it is that I’m currently struggling with. A piece of work that I need to tackle comes up, and instead of just getting on with it, I worry about how hard it might turn out to be. Or even sillier than that, I worry that I might actually finish it, and then what on earth would I do with myself? Anxiety about what the future might hold makes me shy away from fulfilling my responsibility in the present. It’s similar to the battle for patience regarding my wedding day: the thought of continuing to fight for another 172 days just seems too overwhelming – how can I possibly stay now-focussed for such a length of time?? And so it seems hardly worth even trying to battle in the present, and I give in.

An Alternative Way of Living

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 seem very pertinent: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Do not be anxious about tomorrow – sufficient for the day is its own trouble. In other words, leave the future for God to worry about. Your job is just to make the most of today, to fight sin today, to figure out how to love God and love your neighbour today. Now is the only moment of time God has actually entrusted to you to use – all the rest belongs to him.

A Personal Response

So what am I going to do in response to all these swirling thoughts?

Firstly, I’m going to try and take the issue more seriously and put some proper prayer into it each day.

Secondly, I think I’m going to try and start a journal. Try and write something each day, maybe one thing to be thankful for from the day that’s just passed, something that’s encouraged me from God’s word, maybe jot down a few thoughts about what the day ahead will hold and how I hope to make the most of it. Something, anything, to try and keep me rooted in the moment and encourage me to enjoy it and make the most of it rather than wishing I was somewhere else.

Thirdly, and I don’t really know how this one will work out, I’m going to try and slow down and enjoy life a little more, rather than always rushing from one thing to the next. Maybe make myself a cup of tea in the morning with my breakfast. Have a decent quiet time. Put a little music on when I get home from work. Enjoy doing my laundry and hanging out my socks to dry, rather than just resenting it. Hang out with Christian brothers and sisters after church chatting about the sermon. Basically, prayerfully seek to make the most of the situation God has put me in at that moment, rather than killing time until I’m somewhere else.

The Cost of Being a Disciple

Why Jesus is My Hero #33 of 52

Cross & Clouds

Salvation through Jesus Christ will cost you nothing, and it will cost you everything. It will cost you nothing, because for those who’ll cling to the cross of Christ, God graciously rescues us from sin completely free of charge – there is nothing we can do to earn or contribute towards our salvation. Yet it will also cost you everything, because once we receive salvation we are called to die to ourselves and follow the pattern of life left for us by our crucified saviour:

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, Jesus said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.'” (Mark 8:34-38)

This isn’t about giving up the occasional piece of chocolate during lent – this is about a radical, life-long commitment to a whole new way of living that no longer puts myself first – my wants, my ambitions, my rights – but instead puts God’s will first and resolves to repeatedly put my own desires to death in pursuit of serving Him. Jesus’ own life – a life marked by suffering and sorrow before his eventual glorification through his resurrection from the dead – sets the pattern for those who will follow him. If we seek for satisfaction and glory now here in this life we risk forfeiting the riches that really count in the life to come. But if we’re willing to die to ourselves here on earth, Jesus promises a place with him in his kingdom – a kingdom which will never end, and where our enjoyment will never be spoilt or brought to an end by the curse of sin and death.

Doing what’s right here on Earth can often feel painful and frustrating – it’s often accompanied by a sense of wishing things were easier. But it will be so worth it on that when Jesus returns in his glory. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Finding Lasting Satisfaction

Why Jesus is My Hero #32 of 52

All of us have some vision of what we think will make us happy. We’re all working towards something. Maybe it’s that dream job that we think will leave us feeling fulfilled which gives us a sense of purpose; maybe it’s a relationship that we’re in or wish we were in – we look to that person to satisfy our deepest desires; maybe it’s the clothes we wear or the new kitchen we dream of. We yearn for something more than we currently experience, and we look in all kinds of places to satisfy that longing within us.

Jesus speaks of this search for joy in John’s gospel, and he gives some wise counsel: “Do not labour for the food that perishes”. Ultimately, none of these things we’ve mentioned will last. The job gets boring or we get fed up with the deeply ingrained politics of the office; the person we cherish lets us down or goes away; the clothes we buy go out of fashion or get holes in them. Even the most sumptuous banquet runs out, or come back to it a week later and it’s all gone mouldy. You certainly need to eat again the next day, no matter how much you ate. Don’t invest all your energy seeking after food that’s just going to perish and leave you wanting more, says Jesus. Instead, labour “for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus offers us a food that will never run out – food which will leave us feeling satisfied for all eternity.

What is this bread? Jesus tells us a few verses later: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world … I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

There is one relationship which we’d be right to invest all our hopes in – one man who will never let us down or forsake us. The one thing that will truly satisfy us is that for which we were created – to know and love Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Everything else we long for is designed to point us towards that greater reality.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

A good meal can keep you going for a few hours. A good pair of trainers can protect your feet from blisters. But nothing on this earth can guard against our eventual death. Yet Jesus says that people who feed on him – people who find their satisfaction, their joy, their delight in him – well those people will never truly die. They will be raised again to new life with Jesus in the New Creation and enjoy an eternity in relationship with their Creator.

May God forgive us for our short-sightedness and idolatry. We settle for second best so easily. As C.S.Lewis described it, we’re like children who prefer to keep playing with our mud pies in the back garden because we don’t know what it is to have a holiday by the sea side. The bread of life that will truly satisfy us is on offer, completely free of charge, and instead we labour after junk that will perish in no time at all.

Jesus said “Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” May God give us grace to listen to him.